Michigan milk production has increased so much this spring, manufacturing plants have been unable to process all of it and some milk has ended up in farmers’ lagoons.
Exactly how much milk has been dumped statewide has not yet been calculated, but farmers are being reimbursed for the milk with cooperatives sharing the loss among all members.
“Hopefully we’re over the hump,” says Ken Nobis, president of the Michigan Milk Producers Association (MPPA) and a dairy farmer himself. MPPA plants are running at full capacity 24 hours per day seven days each week, he says.
“The only time we’re having problems now is if we get a hiccup in a plant or we have to shut down for an inspection,” he says. Even a two- to three-hour inspection delay can cause milk to back up.
The other issue has been falling fluid milk demand. There is unused capacity in some of Michigan’s fluid milk processing plants. But without demand, it makes little sense to process milk as fluid with a limited shelf life.
Selling extra milk to other plants isn’t a good option either. There’s both the cost of shipping the milk to distant plants and then likely taking distressed prices for the product once it gets there. Plus, simply finding enough trucks and drivers has been an impediment.
The problem has been more cows and more milk per cow. Michigan cows numbers are up 20,000 head from a year ago, and April milk per cow was up 20 lb./cow. May milk receipts were up even more, says Nobis. “Last summer was very nice with very little heat stress. Cows bred back. So there has been no barrier to milk production in the last two years,” he says.
Nobis says MPPA has invested $85 million in its Ovid facility between 2009 and 2014. That plant produces butter and conventional milk powder. It also now manufacturers whole milk powder for the export market. But the export market for WMP has also been soft this year.
The Ovid plant has a rated capacity of 4.3 million lb. of raw milk per day. But employees at the plant have actually been able to process 20% more, churning and drying some 5.3 million lb. of milk daily. “It’s been a tribute to our employees to be able to process that much milk,” says Nobis.